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Thread: The Buddha and Omniscience

  1. #1

    The Buddha and Omniscience

    I came across this article written a few years ago by Prof. Dr. Bhikkhu Analayo. I don't think it has been posted here before:


    The Buddha and Omniscience

    "Omniscience has regularly been ascribed to the Buddha in the different Buddhist traditions. An examination of the early discourses found in the Påli Nikåyas and the Chinese Agamas, however, suggests a different perspective."


    CONTINUED : https://www.buddhismuskunde.uni-hamb...mniscience.pdf

    Comments about the article are welcome.


  2. #2
    Forums Member daverupa's Avatar
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    With this entertaining sense of humour, early Buddhism redirected the search for something dependable on the outside towards a search for independence, to a quest for becoming self-dependent. According to the Chinese, Påli, Sanskrit and Tibetan versions of the Mahåparinibbåna Sutta,the Buddha enjoined his disciples to find security within by becoming a refuge to themselves. By becoming self-dependent through finding a refuge in oneself, any need to depend on an omniscient and almighty external refuge can be transcended.
    A lot seems to have been culturally massaged in those ~three centuries of Nikaya/Agama formation & upkeep; and it's psychologically unsurprising that this should be the case, and unsurprising that this momentum is sustained to this day.

    A perspective apart from valued Tradition seems too much to ask of most people, however... often I hear Buddh-esque language being laid atop a basic Theism package, when hearing about one or another sort of Buddhism, and I can understand how rare indeed a monastic individual would have been who was able to extricate themselves.

    (I also can't help but notice some speculation in the back of mind: maybe all this ridiculous Tradition piled up is part of the reason stream-entry & path progress in general became sacralized & shoved beyond the abilities of most: because it meant giving up valued Traditions, and so people had their cake & ate it too by saying they believed in the Dhamma while continuing to genuflect at the ancestors & gods.

    Ritual & habit are very attractive...

    From a psychological perspective, the tendency to glorify and deify the Buddha could be an expression of “dependency needs”.
    ...and human psychology is very much in play...)
    Last edited by daverupa; 19 Sep 15 at 17:11.

  3. #3
    This is a recent video of Secular Buddhist Doug Smith giving a talk about the Buddha and omniscience, so I thought I would add it to this topic (approx.15mins)

    Was the Buddha Omniscient?






    Any thoughts about what Doug has to say ?

  4. #4
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    An interesting talk about the nature of any knowledge supposedly revealed during insight or awakening. We know about all things being change and the kind of suffering we are trying to escape from, but not in the transformative way that comes through the insight experience. One main difference is the emotional dimension that is part of the, rather fleeting, moment of awakening. Fleeting in direct experience but lasting the rest of your life in memory. Doug also raises the challenge of how to overcome 'underlying tendencies' without having gone through the experiences, but refers you to other talks.

    Personally I think omniscience has been used as a solution to the problem of authority in Buddhism. Why should you believe in the path without some kind of authority? Religions usually bring in such magical elements to suspend people's disbelief. X happened which proves that Y is the real deal and you should follow Y's teaching. Was it cynically put forward in Buddhism as such a strategy?

    Looking at my own experiences I think that there is an element of them which could be misunderstood as being omniscient. If you have been 'one' with the universe not just now but from start to end and have 'seen' that everything is possible, together with having the emotional response equivalent to being hit head on by an express train you may be forgiven if, in the aftermath, you try to make sense of what happened by labelling it 'knowledge', but it really isn't.

    You merely get the chance to see things in a different way, having been through such an experience. The only thing that has changed is your ability to move on from merely conceptually understanding things like 'all things are change' and 'there is no unchanging self' and so on, to never being able to be that person again. You can't go back, no matter how much you may want to. The crutch has been kicked away in the most traumatic way possible, but, if you are lucky, you have enough Buddhist practice to fall back on. For this I think it important that the Buddha wasn't magical, wasn't omniscient, didn't remember previous lives, or anything along those lines. If the Buddha was merely a person like the rest of us, then we can do what he did, and go through such experiences too. He deserves all the respect in the world for having shown us a path we can all walk.

  5. #5
    Forums Member Olderon's Avatar
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    In the sutta: Tipitaka Vinaya Pitaka» Samyutta Nikaya» SN 56 Buddha addresses this issue:

    "What do you think, monks: Which are more numerous, the few simsapa leaves in my hand or those overhead in the simsapa forest?"

    "The leaves in the hand of the Blessed One are few in number, lord. Those overhead in the simsapa forest are more numerous."

    "In the same way, monks, those things that I have known with direct knowledge but have not taught are far more numerous [than what I have taught]. And why haven't I taught them? Because they are not connected with the goal, do not relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and do not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding. That is why I have not taught them.

    "And what have I taught? 'This is stress... This is the origination of stress... This is the cessation of stress... This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress': This is what I have taught. And why have I taught these things? Because they are connected with the goal, relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding. This is why I have taught them.
    As for omniscience, Buddha is also known by the Title: "Teacher of The Gods", which pretty much speaks to his knowledge base.

    https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/.../wheel414.html

  6. #6
    Personally, I don't feel any need to believe in omniscience - and noted this comment in the Bhikkhu Analayo article in the OP #1:

    The attribution of omniscience to the Buddha appears to be the outcome of a historically later development
    plus the final paragraph:

    According to the Chinese, Påli, Sanskrit and Tibetan versions of the Mahåparinibbåna Sutta, the Buddha enjoined his disciples to find security within by becoming a refuge to themselves. By becoming self-dependent through finding a refuge in oneself, any need to depend on an omniscient and almighty external refuge can be transcended.


    .... also I agree with Phil's comment #4:


    Quote Originally Posted by philg

    Personally I think omniscience has been used as a solution to the problem of authority in Buddhism. Why should you believe in the path without some kind of authority? Religions usually bring in such magical elements to suspend people's disbelief.

    .

  7. #7
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    Other religions need external authority such as magic. I followed Buddhism because meditation changed me and I then became interested in Buddhism and the path as a way of bringing about the changes I wanted. It works, and I don't have to believe in anything miraculous to back it up. Besides, who would want to follow an omniscient being that didn't warn you about particular events (watch out for a falling safe on 18th November)?

  8. #8
    Forums Member Cyril's Avatar
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    In my humble opinion, to be " omniscient " in the buddhist way means "to know everything useful to free oneself from dukkha ".

    According to that meaning, I believe that the historical Buddha was omniscient.

    Kind regards,

    Cyril

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Cyril View Post
    In my humble opinion, to be " omniscient " in the buddhist way means " to know everything useful to free oneself from dukkha ".

    According to that meaning, I believe that the historical Buddha was omniscient.
    Any thoughts about the Bhikkhu Analayo article in the opening post #1 of this topic, or about the video #3, Cyril?

  10. #10
    Forums Member Cyril's Avatar
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    I have selected some sentences in the Bhikkhu Analayo article :

    - " Omniscience in ancient India also comprised foresight of future events. (...) The Buddha explained to expect him to predict what will be in the future is simply a sign of being confused about what can be known and what cannot be known ".

    - " The Buddha pointed out that it is impossible to have omniscient knowledge ".

    - " The Buddha knew all in the sense he had penetrative insight into the nature of every aspect of experience (...). He did not claim to be omniscient in the technical sense of the term ".

    - "The attribution of omniscience to the Buddha appears to be the outcome of historically later development, which in all traditions tended to emphasize the divine against the human in the person of Gotama Buddha ".

    I have no need "to glorify and deify" Gotama Buddha.

    He was a human, like you and me. In spite of that human condition, he achieved the highest wisdom. That’s why I trust him.

    With metta,

    Cyril

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